Since the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov for their discovery of Graphene, the research community and corporations have been busy trying to exploit the properties of this exceptional material. According to many visionaries, graphene is the next big thing since silicon and what’s exciting is its unparalleled potential for use in a wide variety of applications.
Graphene is two hundred times stronger than steel and researchers are already studying ways to use it effectively in spacecraft, aircraft, sports equipment and other areas in which carbon fibers have already found an application. Graphene is super-thin and it conducts heat and electricity much better than any other material – better than even copper. Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated use of graphene is in the field of electronics since it was discovered that electrons moved faster in graphene than in other material. Recent experiments have already demonstrated that graphene based transistors can operate at speeds of hundreds of gigahertz. Graphene will revolutionize electronics as we know it today because devices can be constructed smaller and faster than ever.
One of the challenges of using graphene in the electronics industry is that while it is a superb conductor, it is unable to switch off current – something that silicon does very well. Samsung’s researchers claim to have cracked this problem by constructing a graphene-silicon barrier that gives graphene the ability to switch off current without losing electron mobility. With this single advancement, a grain-sized computer is suddenly a very real possibility. Recently, a group of Swedish scientists developed a breakthrough transistor technology by combining graphene with silicon carbide. In the coming years we could see graphene being used in LCDs, RF applications, in super capacitors and fast wireless communication devices.
Scientists at the University of Maryland used bilayer graphene to develop an extra-sensitive photodetector. This temperature-sensitive device was found to be a thousand times faster than currently known technologies, besides having the ability to recognize a broad range of light energies. In the future we can expect to see graphene used in body scanners and biochemical weapons detectors.
Recently, in a significant development, researchers not only managed to use graphene to get lithium ion batteries to charge ten times faster, but also increased the battery’s charging capacity. Another team was able to achieve a similar feat by using graphene to increase the charging capacity and speed of a Nickel-iron battery.
The high conductivity and water repelling properties of graphene could go a long way in protecting and increasing the life of iron and steel structures. Again, because of its high conductivity, graphene could be used to build economical cooling devices that can cool up to 25% faster than copper. Nanoporous graphene membranes could provide an affordable desalination solution that can effectively end the world’s drinking water problem and membranes made of graphene oxide could be used to distil alcohol.
Most recently, scientists discovered that graphene, which is made of very thin sheets of carbon just 1 atom thick, can actually mend itself. This opens up immense possibilities because it not only provides a way to drill through graphene, but it also suggests the possibility of growing graphene into new shapes.
With all this research yielding amazing results, work on the economical mass production of graphene has already gained momentum. Graphene based products are expected to hit the market by around 2015 and the value of the graphene market could reach unimaginable heights as early as 2020.